Gentle comedy, bitter tragedy and grief intertwine in an affectionately delineated portrait of an Indian hill community.
While ostensibly offering a leisurely exploration of the town of Ranikhet in the foothills of the Himalayas, Roy (An Atlas of Invisible Longing, 2011) has achieved something larger, a poem to the natural world and its relentless displacement by the developed one. Maya, a young widow whose husband Michael died trekking in the mountains, has come here to be near where his body was found and to teach at a local school. Her landlord, Diwan Sahib, a retired man of influence, is rumored to own a cache of valuable letters between Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru. This secret passion is mirrored in two contemporary romances, Maya’s liaison with Diwan’s nephew Veer and the love between illiterate hill girl Charu and a cook. Roy pulls politics, society, ecological warning and history into her slow, episodic story, but it’s her love for the creatures, landscapes and eternal beauty of this place that inspire it. Finally events gather speed after an act of petty spite against a neighbor and his pet, culminating in death, a terrible discovery and an act of shattering revenge.
Despite an occasional sense of drift, this understated, finely observed book expresses a haunting vision. A writer to watch.